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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

SINGLE-HANDED: SET 2 -- DVD review by porfle

Returning to a breathtakingly picturesque rural Ireland with Acorn Media's 3-disc DVD set SINGLE-HANDED: SET 2, we find that the only lawman for miles around still has his hands full dealing with all the ugliness that goes on beneath the lovely exterior of his sleepy little hometown.

Sgt. Jack Driscoll (Owen McDonnell), who has taken over as "Garda" from his late father, finds it difficult to avoid the corruption that was once a standard feature during his father's tenure.  While less prone to violence or intimidation, he also commands less respect and loyalty from the townspeople.  Still, he insists on doing things his way and going by the book as much as possible. 

Making this harder for him is a deputy whose own loyalties are divided.  Having served under the elder Driscoll, Garda Finbarr Colving (David Herlihy) is now torn between doing things the old way and trying to live up to his new boss' expectations of him.  Being in debt to a conniving local businessman named Costello (Sean McGinley), who owns the pub and hotel along with various other shady interests, often makes the unwilling Finbarr a liability to Jack. 

As always, one of the most interesting things about SINGLE-HANDED is the fact that with every case Jack handles, he must deal with people he's known his whole life.  Even his own widowed mother Eithne (Ruth McCabe), still fiercely loyal to his father, is often at odds with him ("What kind of Driscoll are you?" she accuses him at one point).  Because of this, there's much more at stake in each story than simply dealing with the problems of a bunch of strangers.  And Jack can never just leave these problems at the office at quitting time.

This is especially true in the first of three feature-length stories, "The Lost Boys", when Jack meets long-lost cousin Brian (Matthew McNulty) and his fiance' Gemma (Simone Lahbib) who are searching for Brian's father whom he's never known.  The missing man turns out to be Eithne's troubled older brother Sean (a soulful Stephen Rea) who spent his boyhood in a hellish reform school and was treated afterward as though he'd never existed. 

Brian turns out to be more trouble than Jack could have imagined in a variety of ways, including his attempt to take over the family home and land as his own.  Compounding the problem is one of those romantic developments that you just know is going to be trouble as Jack and Gemma start falling for each other.  Meanwhile, the death and possible murder of an elderly man after tangling with some boys from a nearby "Boys Town"-like school ties in with all of this in unexpected ways. 

Costello's involvement in a shady housing development is brought into question in "Between Two Fires" when a dead woman is found in one of the houses after it has been gutted by fire.  A former cop himself, Costello becomes a major thorn in Jack's side as he schemes to get him kicked out of the Garda while using the debt-ridden Finbarr as a pawn.  Once again, the woman's death forces Jack to alienate old friends as he searches for suspects, while his troubles with Brian and Gemma get deeper. 

Finally, "Cold Heaven" ramps up the drama of the continuing plotlines while introducing us to a 17-year-old girl named Maired (Charlie Murphy) who's being sold as a prostitute by a sweet-talking young pimp.  Jack promises to help her but is suspended from the Garda after a moment of anger at Brian gets him into serious trouble--which Costello plans to take advantage of in a big way.  Things look bleaker than ever for Jack in this one, with not only his own life falling apart but also those of the people he's trying most desperately to help.

The entire cast is excellent as before, with Owen McDonnell giving a low-key, restrained, yet intense performance as Jack.  The writing is sharp with such a wealth of scintillating dialogue exchanges and plot twists that there's no need to tack on the usual "action" scenes or ramp up the pace.  Direction and other technical aspects are top-notch as well, with those exquisite Irish locations used not only for their beauty but also to convey a windswept sense of isolation and melancholy--after awhile, all that green starts to get a little oppressive.

The 3-disc DVD from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby stereo sound and English subtitles.  Each disc contains a brief photo gallery.

Moreso than in previous episodes, the three two-part stories in SINGLE-HANDED: SET 2 are tied together by dramatic story threads that keep winding tighter throughout the entire engrossing narrative.  As much as I love John Ford's idyllic vision of Ireland in THE QUIET MAN, this warts-and-all look at the emerald isle through the eyes of one lone lawman makes for some richly rewarding entertainment.

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